It’s Friday, which means another weekend of football is coming up. With two college football games on tonight’s betting card, the majority of the action comes from the diamond as some important series kick off and others continue. Most teams have around 16 or 17 games left to play this season, so it’s more important than ever to be thinking about these teams from a mental standpoint. Teams with nothing left to play for are in a much different place than teams fighting for a playoff spot and teams that are all but guaranteed a playing spot have a different mindset as well. Let’s break down the September 18 card.
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St. Louis at Chicago (-115); Total: N/A
I’m not going to break down this game in depth because of the lead time of this article, but listeners of Thursday’s edition of The Bettor’s Box might have heard some Lance Lynn information that they will find useful for this matinee matchup.
Miami at Washington (-150); Total: 6.5
For an in-depth preview of this NL East showdown between two of the league’s top pitchers, click here.
Kansas City at Detroit (-115); Total: 8.5
A lot of attention has been given to Johnny Cueto and his struggles. It’s definitely a surprise to see Cueto and the Royals as an underdog at most books to Justin Verlander and the Tigers in tonight’s matchup. To be fair, sports betting is a “what have you done for me lately?” exercise more often than not and perception is very low of Cueto. He has a 5.43 ERA with a 4.30 FIP and a 4.03 xFIP in his nine starts with the Royals. People expected a bit of a drop-off in numbers by switching leagues, specifically from a K/BB standpoint, but Cueto’s home run rate and BABIP have ballooned in a big way. His command just isn’t there right now.
Cueto has allowed a total of 30 runs in his last five starts after allowing just six runs in his first four starts, including an emotional complete game shutout of Detroit in his first home start with the Royals. Cueto has been a guy that has been able to thrive due to a low BABIP against because his stuff moves so much and he has so much of a mound presence. One thing that may be making matters worse is that Cueto, outside of injuries, hasn’t faced a whole lot of performance-based adversity over the last few seasons. It’s also hard to find Royals starters that have improved under the current coaching staff. Perhaps they are in over their heads a bit with pitcher struggles, since they usually just rely on the league’s top defense to bail them out. This is definitely a situation to watch.
Justin Verlander has had a big resurgence this season after a rough 2014. He’s always had some pitachbility, but he has tried to become more of a pitcher than a thrower now that his velocity is gone. He showed the ability to reach back when he got frustrated last start against the Indians, but the days of touching triple digits are in the past. There aren’t a lot of changes to Verlander’s usage from past seasons, but the results have been better.
Now healthy, Verlander has been better in the second half than he was in the first half. He’s struck out 66 in 75.1 innings and has held opposing batters to a .219/.259/.331 slash against. However, Verlander has struggled from the stretch. With the bases empty, hitters are batting .187/.240/.307. With men on base, those numbers inflate to .310/.358/.481. That’s certainly a development to watch, since the Tigers are not a great defensive team and Verlander’s not the overpowering guy he once was.
I don’t know what direction to go with this game. Cueto is a mystery right now and Verlander isn’t the same reliable pitcher he once was. If I had to pick this game, I think I’d look to the Royals because I believe Cueto is a lot better than this and it’s time for the Royals to get serious again and finish the season on a high note.
Chicago (AL) (-150) at Cleveland; Total: 7
The betting market has spoken on this game as Chris Sale and the White Sox jumped about a quarter from the overnight line. That’s hardly a surprise. Sale is coming off of a bad start against the Minnesota Twins, but he’s taking on Cody Anderson and there aren’t many believers out there in him.
Sale is having another terrific season. Ignore his 3.55 ERA because his FIP and xFIP are both better than last season as he has a 27.9 percent K%-BB%, which is just phenomenal. It’s kind of amazing that he ever has a bad start with how good his stuff is. By FIP-, he’s 39 percent better than league average this season, which is the second-best mark in the league behind some guy named Clayton Kershaw. This line came out way too low and the market capitalized.
So, is Cody Anderson worth a look at this price? The improved Indians defense makes Anderson a more interesting pitcher than he would have been back in April or May. The issue is that he isn’t as extreme of a ground ball guy as you would like with his terrible strikeout rate. Fortunately, he doesn’t issue many walks, but balls in play are going to find some grass and he also has a minor home run issue.
The White Sox haven’t seen Anderson yet and he’s done a good job of keeping hitters guessing since he returned from the DL on August 26. Considering he’s allowed just four runs on 12 hits over his last three starts (Toronto, Detroit x2), maybe there’s something here. Of course, the Indians have to give him some support against Sale and the White Sox have a better bullpen than the Indians right now.
Sale is still the side, but with the line value gone, I’m not sure I’d touch it. The under seems like a more intriguing option at this point.
New York (AL) (-115) at New York (NL); Total: 7
For insight, analysis, and a free MLB pick on this game, check out my detailed preview.
Philadelphia at Atlanta (-110); Total: 8.5
It’s been a little while since these teams have been discussed, but this line piqued my interest in a big way. Adam Morgan is left-handed and the Braves are ranked 28th in wOBA against lefties. It’s no secret that they can’t handle them. Williams Perez has gotten zero respect in the betting market since he returned from the disabled list on July 31. He hasn’t really deserved any either. He pitched well against Philadelphia last week and Morgan has struggled in three of his last four starts.
This is a really strange line. From watching the market and the lines throughout the season, the play the oddsmakers want you to make here is the Phillies. Everybody knows how bad Atlanta has been over the last six weeks. Nobody has bet on Williams Perez. This game will probably have the lowest handle of the night, but I think the Braves are the play based on the context of the line.
Cincinnati at Milwaukee (-115); Total: 8.5
As you know, I like to focus on games with pitching matchups like this. Even if I don’t have a strong read on the game, my entire goal at BangTheBook is to inform and educate and if I can do that in matchups with unknown pitchers, I’ll do that every time. The Reds are turning to Brandon Finnegan in this start. In the future, I really like the 22-year-old’s upside. He hasn’t shown a whole lot from a starting standpoint, but there’s a lot of upside and he has very good stuff if he can learn to harness it.
Finnegan is making his first Major League start in this one after 23 relief appearances spread over two seasons. The Reds have bumped Michael Lorenzen (innings limit) and Raisel Iglesias (fatigue) from the rotation, so Finnegan gets the opportunity to start. The problem here is that Finnegan has not been stretched out. He last worked September 13 and faced three batters. He threw two perfect relief innings on September 11. Don’t expect him to go more than 60 pitches. Because he’s not particularly efficient from a control standpoint, that may not even get him through four innings.
I love Finnegan’s upside and the fact that he’s starting against a Brewers team that is horrible against lefties, but there’s not a lot to like about this spot for him.
Zach Davies, the “prize” for the Gerardo Parra deal has not looked great in three big league starts after an average minor league career to date. Davies is a ground ball, pitch to contact guy with a walk rate that is way too high for a pitcher that doesn’t get many strikeouts. He’s only 22, so a back-end of the rotation projection is hardly the end of the world, but his problems with runners on base are a sign of his immaturity as a pitcher.
I think runs can be scored in this game, even though neither offense is particularly exciting. This game will see the bullpens come in early and both teams are really lacking in middle relief.
San Diego at Colorado (-115); Total: 11
This game was the podcast free pick on The Bettor’s Box from Thursday. For my pick on the game, take a listen to the show.